Overtraining and Adrenal Fatigue – Are You Working Too Hard?


The benefits of exercise are well documented and the vast majority of people could use more exercise. That being said, did you know there is such a thing as overtraining? Exercising too much can be just as dangerous as exercising too little. The most common effect of over-exercising is known as adrenal fatigue.

It is particularly common in hardgainers who resort to ridiculous training regimens (due to the bad advice in the bodybuilding magazines) in their desperation to get rid of their skinny look. If you are training six days a week, twice a day, chances are that you are overtraining. Not only is it counterproductive to gaining muscle, it could also lead to adrenal fatigue and ill-health.

Below are the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

  • Perpetually tiredness that is not relieved by sleeping.
  • Trouble getting out of bed in the morning and feeling unrested.
  • Feeling ‘down’ or depressed most of the time.
  • Constantly needing coffee and energy drinks just to function.
  • Feeling more energetic and alert later at night than during the day (caused by diminished light).

Adrenal fatigue is especially insidious because there is usually nothing obviously wrong with you. It is not like you have a broken bone or a missing limb but you are just not functioning properly. It is one of the more common undiagnosed and misdiagnosed conditions in developed countries.

overtraining-exercising-5From a physiological standpoint adrenal fatigue simply means that your adrenal glands are not secreting enough hormones to deal with the stresses in your life. Your adrenal glands serve the functioning of producing hormones such as cortisol that enable you to effectively deal with life threatening ‘fight or flight’ situations.

Intense physical activity such as the kind needed to build muscle is one such form of stress. Your body perceives it as a threat to your well-being and in response produces cortisol.

When you overtrain for prolonged periods of time without sufficient rest you end up over-stimulating your adrenal glands to the point where they can no longer cope with the demands placed on them. This is the point at which adrenal fatigue sets in. If you are training too much and also not eating and sleeping enough (as is the case for many hardgainers) adrenal fatigue can be debilitating!

While it is okay to exercise lightly for 30 minutes every day, it is not okay to engage in intense weight training every single day. This is why I usually recommend that hardgainers who are looking to build muscle, should not train with weights more than three times a week. I also recommend that each weight training session should not last more than 1 hour in length.

Ignore the bodybuilding magazines that tell you to work out for two and a half hours every workout session! They are for genetic freaks of nature, not for you. It’s important to understand that after about 45 minutes of intense training, cortisol secretion will begin because your body feels “under threat” from all the intense activity.

One of the effects of cortisol is that it breaks down muscle tissue to give you an extra energy boost. This can be useful in true life and death situations such as those faced by our ancestors when escaping the grips of saber tooth tigers in the jungles. It is not useful for your muscle building goals.

So what should you do when you experience adrenal fatigue? The best thing you can do is take a complete break from training for a week or two, get plenty of rest, eat well avoid stress and avoid alcohol. Remember that a low-calorie diet is the other major contributor to adrenal fatigue. Follow these guidelines and you will steer clear of adrenal fatigue.

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About Author

Don Demarco

Don is a fitness enthusiast and writer who is interested in helping people learn more about exercise, nutrition and wellness so they can live a healthier and happier life.

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